Some of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s rivals in the race for Los Angeles County sheriff are publicly calling on him to withdraw his candidacy in the wake of testimony he gave at a deputy’s trial this week.
Deputy James Sexton is one of seven sheriff’s officers accused of obstructing a federal investigation of alleged abuse of inmates in the county jail by hiding an inmate, Anthony Brown, who was an FBI informant. Sexton said he was following orders from his superiors.
Under cross-examination, Tanaka acknowledged that he is the subject of a federal investigation but maintained that the order to hide Brown from federal agents came from then-Sheriff Lee Baca, and that it was necessary to isolate the inmate while his claims of being an informant were investigated.
Tanaka also testified that he believed the orders to be lawful and that he “didn’t see anything inappropriate” about Brown’s treatment.
Candidate Bob Olmsted, a retired sheriff’s commander, issued a formal letter and announced an online petition on Tuesday urging Tanaka to step down.
“Recent days in court have opened up the floodgates and have helped shine a bright spotlight on just how deeply rooted the LASD’s corruption has been under failed Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s reign of terror,” Olmsted wrote. “In yesterday’s federal criminal courtroom cross-examination of Tanaka, the assistant U.S. attorney informed Tanaka that he is a ‘subject’ in their ongoing criminal investigation into obstruction of justice charges that has already resulted in eight Sheriff’s Department deputies, sergeants and lieutenants indicted by the federal grand jury and waiting criminal prosecution — a fact that alone makes Tanaka unfit to serve as L.A. County’s next sheriff …
“It was Paul Tanaka who ignored my calls to put an end to the abuse and excessive force in Men’s Central Jail. By disregarding my warnings, he effectively sanctioned this wrongdoing and became part of the institutionalized problem identified by the Citizens’ Commission of Jail Violence.
“As a result of Tanaka’s unethical and cataclysmic mismanagement as undersheriff and his key role in directing subordinates to hide an FBI informant, out of respect to the voters and the large majority of honest and hard-working members of the LASD, today I am calling on Paul Tanaka to formally withdraw his candidacy … Voters need and deserve an honest Sheriff who will uphold and have the greatest respect for the law.”
Candidate Todd Rogers, an assistant sheriff, said in a video posted on Facebook, “When you look at every scandal that we’re dealing with at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Lee Baca owns those because he was the leader of the organization, but he clearly trusted the wrong people. And it’s disgusting to me that we have one of those people running for sheriff, Paul Tanaka.
“You look at all these scandals, whether it’s hiding an inmate from the FBI, or shipping bulletproof vests from Gardena, where he’s mayor, to Cambodia, to cronyism in hiring and promotions … the common denominator is him and his band of followers … that have devastated this organization, cost us the public trust, cost us credibility in the law enforcement community.”
Candidate Jim McDonnell, police chief of Long Beach, said in a statement, “In October 2012, after a nearly year-long process of investigation and evaluation, the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence (CCJV), of which I was a member, came to the following conclusions:
“The troubling role of Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored. Not only did he fail to identify and correct problems in the jails, he exacerbated them. The commission learned about his ill-advised statements and decisions from a wide array of witnesses and sources. Over the course of several years, the undersheriff encouraged deputies to push the legal boundaries of law enforcement activities and created an environment that discouraged accountability for misconduct …
“I’m running for sheriff because I think Paul Tanaka and the leadership of the Sheriff’s Department has failed the county — to the tune of, so far, 20 deputies indicted, pending civil rights investigations and over $150 million in legal payouts — and based on my work on the CCJV it is clear that our entire community would be better off today and in the future if Paul Tanaka ended his campaign.”
Candidate James Hellmold, an assistant sheriff, said, “The leadership failures exposed during the FBI investigation affirms why I am running for sheriff. The Sheriff’s Department needs an ethical leader with new energy, new ideas, and the credibility to ensure future success.”
Candidates Lou Vince, an LAPD detective, and Patrick Gomez, a retired sheriff’s lieutenant, posted links to articles about Tanaka on their Facebook pages. Gomez commented, “Voters of Los Angeles County do not need ‘business as usual,’ you need real change.” Vince wrote, “And here you finally have what we all already knew. Vote for a clean break and new leadership in two weeks.”
With Election Day fast approaching, Tanaka has no intention of dropping out. His campaign consultant, Reed Galen, said in a statement Tuesday, “Paul Tanaka is a 33-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and served with distinction his entire career. He has a positive vision of leadership and accountability for the LASD and is the only candidate ready to lead on Day One.
“The voters of Los Angeles County deserve better than the continued and baseless attacks on someone who has dedicated their entire life to keeping the citizens of L.A. County safe. Paul will continue working hard for the next two weeks, as he has done since he joined the race last August, talking to voters in L.A. County; and it is the voters who will decide on their new sheriff on June 3.”
Tanaka, who said his campaign is going “very, very well,” continues to announce endorsements, most recently from San Gabriel City Councilmember Mario De La Torre, the L.A. County Federation of Republican Women Executive Committee, former State Sen. Tony Strickland, Calabasas City Councilmember Mary Sue Maurer, San Marino Vice Mayor Eugene Sun, Redondo Beach City Councilmember Stephen Sammarco, and former Alhambra Unified School District Board President Sophie C. Wong.
On Tanaka’s Facebook page, one supporter posted, “Saw the news and I don’t believe what the FBI said. I know it’s a political scheme from the Democrats.” Another wrote, “It’s all tactical b.s. to persuade voters not to vote for T!”